Volunteering at Manchester Histories with Becky Stevens
Wednesday 1 July 2015
My first experience as a volunteer for Manchester Histories was being sat in a freezing warehouse on Dale Street in the Northern Quarter. It was a few days before the March 2014 Festival began; myself and a few other volunteers were being trained how to use fire extinguishers in preparation for the Belle Vue: Showground of the World exhibition. Although it doesn’t sound like the most enticing volunteer experience, we quickly bonded through a shared need for hot drinks and biscuits, the staple volunteer diet! We shook off the chill with stories about our various backgrounds and enthusiasm for history. In hindsight, the memory of the night of fire-training is only one of many highly fulfilling abut also ultimately, life changing experiences I had!
Manchester Histories opened my eyes to the opportunities volunteering in the arts can offer. We were given the chance to build a wide skill set, which ranged from the basic to specialist. For example, I helped with administrative work, particularly following the festival with the evaluation research; worked with the public by invigilating exhibitions and events; and university lecturers taught us how to undertake oral histories interviews, in order to help build an archive of evidence from people who had memories of Belle Vue. The latter in particular was really rewarding. I spent a lot of time invigilating the exhibition, where I learned about a whole area of history I had previously known nothing about and it was also where I undertook the interviews. To be able to hear people’s memories, sometimes highly cherished ones, was not only incredibly interesting, but also a real privilege. I spoke with many who clearly had a great passion for Belle Vue and relished the opportunity to relive their youth through the footage and objects on display.
Aside from volunteering for the Belle Vue exhibition, I was lucky enough to have my personal interest in the history of sport taken into account when allocations of volunteers were being done. I was therefore able to volunteer at a couple of events that focused on Manchester’s sporting heritage. These included helping to facilitate a tour at Manchester Tennis and Racquets Club, a building and institution that truly offers a glimpse into the past. It was like walking into a time capsule! Another event was at the National Football Museum for a very varied and interesting panel discussion, that included basketballer John Amaechi, broadcaster Terry Christian and historian Michael Wood, amongst others, entitled ‘Manchester Heroes: Should the City remember it’s Heroes?’.
My time at the festival had such an effect on me that it has hugely influenced my career path. Prior to my volunteering, I had plans to follow an academic route and intended to do an MA in History. I had even prepared for this, with a move to study in Edinburgh on the horizon. However, the week with the festival confirmed some existing doubts in my mind about this, and I realised what I had enjoyed most was the bringing together of strangers with shared interests and the exposure to ‘new’ histories, be it through a lecture or using an old warehouse as a venue. I therefore began an MA in Arts Management at the University of Manchester last September. In my second semester I re-joined Manchester Histories for my work placement. It has been fantastic to see what is in store for Manchester Histories Festival 2016; next June can’t come soon enough!